No running back by committee for Bengals: ‘Joe Mixon is our starter’

Credit: Joshua A. Bickel

Credit: Joshua A. Bickel

CINCINNATI — Joe Mixon has cleared concussion protocol and is on track to play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor already made it clear Mixon remains the team’s starting running back, despite good production out of Samaje Perine the past three games.

Mixon got off to a slow start this season but seemed to be hitting his groove right before suffering a concussion in the first half of a 37-30 win at Pittsburgh in Week 11. In his last full game, he totaled 221 yards and franchise-record five touchdowns in a 42-21 win over Carolina, including 153 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. His performance earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week.

The Bengals are counting on him to pick up where he left off, as his return comes ahead of an important “Battle of Ohio” game Sunday at Paycor Stadium. The Bengals (8-4) are seeking their first win over Cleveland (5-7) since 2019 and would benefit from Mixon and Perine both playing at a high level, but Taylor insists their roles won’t change.

“Joe Mixon is our starting running back,” Taylor said, when asked whether the team would benefit from two backs sharing the load. “In the last (full) game he played in, he had five touchdowns, tremendous effort. And Samaje has done a really good job filling in, and so, to have those two guys that you’ve got a lot of confidence in, whatever the moment calls for, we think that’s very valuable to have, especially going into this late season stretch, and hopefully beyond that.”

Perine, who was Mixon’s teammate at Oklahoma, enjoyed three of his best games when the team needed him to step up. He had three touchdown receptions against Pittsburgh, ran effectively most of the game against Tennessee and amassed 155 yards from scrimmage in a 27-24 win over Kanas City on Sunday, averaging 5.1 yards per carry (21 attempts,106 yards).

Mixon said he expected nothing less from a teammate he’s played alongside for almost six seasons, and he was glad to see Perine “do his thing.” Perine was drafted by Washington in 2017, but landed in Cincinnati midway through the 2019 campaign, and the two spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons together at OU.

Asked what it meant to hear Taylor’s vote of confidence in him as the starter, Mixon said he didn’t expect anything would change upon his return.

“I guess clarification for y’all (media), but at the same time I truly felt like with Perine being there, he’s definitely a great 1-2 back with me,” Mixon said. “He’s definitely been a complimentary back with me. He’s been that since we’ve been at OU, it’s always been that 1-2 punch. People see what he’s able to do. We’re going to keep going forward and keep putting up numbers and keep doing what we do.”

There couldn’t be two more different running backs carrying the load for the Bengals, but they both believe that’s why they are such a good combination.

Mixon is energetic and talkative and known for his vision, patience, cutting ability and burst of speed running the ball. Perine is quiet and likes to avoid attention. He powers through defenders with the help of an impressive stiff arm, and the Bengals love what he brings in pass protection.

“You’re not gonna get too much flashy stuff from me,” Perine said. “It’s just if I can’t run around you, I run through you and it is what it is. I mean, you can stand up to it if you want to, but it’s gonna wear on you.”

As much as the Bengals like Perine’s consistency, he’s still no Mixon. Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan compared it to not really wanting to replace Ja’Marr Chase with Trenton Irwin, as well as Irwin has played in limited opportunities, and noted “there’s a recency bias” with how Perine has played lately.

Perine isn’t worried about whether he’s earned more carries or not.

“I helped the team get a couple of wins, can never be mad at that, but you know, I’m just taking it all in stride, just doing whatever I can,” Perine said. “Just keeping my head down because you hear all the talks outside of the building. One week, they want you gone and the next week, they love you. I’m just happy to be in the position that we’re in, and then a playoff run in here in the back stretch of the season. I just can’t wait for the next one.”

Mixon can’t wait to get back on the field after feeling like he could have played against the Chiefs. He had struggled with some vision problems with the concussion but was “just barely” fighting through it at the end of last week when Taylor decided to just shut him down and wait.

“As much as I wanted to go and felt like I can contribute, I feel like they made the best decision for everybody,” Mixon said. “Like I said, Perine, he did a great job of stepping up and filling in. I’m glad to see that. I’m glad he did that. Coming this week, just gotta get ready for the Browns. It’s a big one.”


Browns at Bengals, 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1290, 1530, 95.7, 102.7, 104.7

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